The assumption by businesses that everyone who calls them by phone has access to the internet must be frustrating for people who don’t. I phoned one of the leading supermarket chains this morning to enquire about a mislaid item. The impersonal, monotone robotic voice that answered without any greeting directed me script fashion to the store’s main website and store locator then abruptly ended the call. I was struck by the thought of how frustrating it must be for people who still use landlines and have no access to the internet to pursue enquiries etc. They are effectively excluded from the market place, so to speak. It’s the same with the present situation where many outlets are only accepting contactless cards as payment. I observed one lad in a wheelchair who only had cash, which seemed to annoy the shop owner who responded impatiently and impolitely. I was ready to step in and help the lad out in the situation but the shop owner was overwhelmed by a fleeting feeling of goodness to ‘accept cash on this occasion.’ How magnanimous of him. This contactless situation brought to mind Revelations 13: 16-18 which speaks of a time when no one will be able to buy or sell unless they bear a number. Appears that we’re fast approaching this time thanks in part to the largely exaggerated response to the Coronovirus i.e shutting healthy young people away in their homes; socially destructive social distancing (unscientific) and tanking the economy. No wonder the writer of Revelations could say ‘Come quickly, Jesus, come!’ I’m inclined to echo this call for His return.
While I understand the principle behind the idea of social distancing I’m discovering all too often that it the distance is more than counted in metres. Fear, suspicion and paranoia are the negative measurements included. A man leapt away from me in a supermarket because he felt I’d stepped closer to him than the prescribed distance. As he did so he snarled “Get away from me!” as if I were a leper. I was taken aback by his action and attitude. I responded firmly telling him to get a grip. In the car park I asked a man for his empty trolley he was wheeling back to the bay. All he needed to do was push it towards me and walk away but instead he muttered some gibberish and darted to his right and past me in a half-moon direction. Thankfully the woman behind him was more sociable, gently pushing her empty trolley towards me. A sullen till operator glared at me and snapped interrogatively “How are you paying?” In response I wanted to dump the shopping on the belt and simply walk away. People have crossed to the other side of the road to avoid me; refused to cross the pedestrian bridge from the opposite side until I’ve crossed and just before I did the person stepped back a few yards. I smiled only to receive a hesitant glance in return.
All this Vera Lynn ‘We’ll Meet Again’ sentimentalisation of the lock-down makes me cringe in the light of my experience. By the way, my late Father was a gunner during WWII. He dismissed this song and others of that ilk because he felt they made light the grim, brutality of what he had experienced and never fully recovered from.
Will healthy social interaction fully recover from the end of social distancing? If it ever ends at all at least sub-consciously.
‘Dodged a bullet’ as the saying goes.
Mercifully still standing but not on my legs alone for sure.
Or rather throwing your value as you would throw a handful of crumbs to birds. A friend finally gave vent to her despair at my enduring habit of undervaluing myself. “Stop throwing yourself at people,” she blurted out, “They are the ones who should throw themselves at you because it’s you that has the skill they need to learn from. You have value!” she asserted with firmness. What sparked this reaction was her observing me repeatedly reminding someone that I was still available to teach him the specific subject he was keen to learn. She saw this as grovelling on my part; a humiliating of myself; selling myself cheap. She had also observed my tendency to undervalue my art a skill she is keen to promote more effectively on my behalf. Then there are my academic achievements that I also undervalue in her estimation not to mention my reluctance to use my title (Reverend). She’s not saying I ought to go around blowing my trumpet but rather realise my value and stop chasing people. Since heeding her injunction I’ve discovered just how productive and liberating it has been. Do you realise your value?
A couple of days a week I stand across the road from a shopping mall to distribute leaflets and other pieces of literature on behalf of a local church. Recently a young, diminutive woman dressed in cheerful summer attire walked past me. As she did so she kept looking back slowing down to a halt. ‘You’re hesitating,’ I called out with a smile. She walked back and peered at the church’s name on the front of my red hi-vi jacket. ‘I know where that church is,’ she said, ‘but I can’t stop because my partner is a controlling man and he doesn’t like me talking to strangers.’ Her body trembled and she shiftily glanced around as she spoke. Having told me this she made to leave but then stepped forward again to take one of my leaflets. ‘I’ll come to church,’ she remarked. ‘You’ll be made very welcome,’ I replied. Picking up on my accent she – still glancing around – told me her grandmother was Scottish and that she had loved the way she said ‘Awright, hen?’ to her, which is a term of endearment for females in Scotland. She then told me that she was a descendent from the French Huguenots who had King Henry VIII to thank for their survival. Again she made to leave repeating albeit conditionally this time that she would try and get to the church but again she stepped forward to nervously continue the history lesson. Sensing her fear and not wanting to keep her in that state – this encounter took place in a busy street – I offered her a copy of the New Testament as a parting gift. She was speechless and genuinely moved by the offer a reaction that indicated this sad woman longed to be genuinely loved, to be set free from captivity and find peace in her life. Tucking the book into her shoulder bag she thanked me and set off and disappeared into the throng all the while checking around her. This young woman with the world at her feet was dressed in the height of colourful summer fashion yet its brightness was betrayed by the darkness of fear and cruelty.
The spectre of knife crime hovers over Wandsworth, London. One Mother affected by its deadly presence responds.
I was privileged to meet Mrs Jennifer Beckford yesterday (18th June) at the church I am attached to as an outreach worker. She and her husband lost their beloved son Nicholas to a knife attack in 2014. In spite of coping with the devastation of such a loss they are nonetheless in the process of setting up the Nicholas Stewart Project, which they plan to locate in the disreputable estate where the crime took place. The project offers young people education, training, personal development and employment opportunities. It also offers support to parents affected by violent crime. Mrs Beckford has been garnering material and practical support from churches, agencies, outlets and individuals from within the district.
Whenever I’ve dreamt of the office where I formerly worked (I’ve dreamt of it numerous times since leaving in 1992) I was strictly treated as an outsider by staff; no one talked or took notice of me. In real life this was not entirely true; I got along fine with a few of the men and women. However, in last night’s dream I was accepted by all. When I’ve left this office in previous dreams to go home it’s been late at night and either without bike lights or just missed the last bus. The way home was too dark to risk cycling hence I was stranded once again. In last night’s dream I left the office carrying a patchwork quilt like the one I actually own. I stepped out of the door to be immediately faced by a rocky incline from the door to the peak that looked like the top of a lengthy wall. Ascending its rough surface wasn’t easy. My legs felt very heavy almost too heavy to take a step. On the way up a woman drew near from the side and placed her cool cheek against mine and said something and backed off. I could not make out what it was she said. I finally trudged my way to the top to discover houses and other buildings on the other side. Still holding the blanket I dropped down onto the road below, stood upright and looked ahead at the darkened row of houses running across the entry to the dimly lit road where I stood. I didn’t recognise them nor did I know where I was. A woman from the office came up from behind and walked past. I reached out to take her hand as she did so but quickly withdrew it. I wasn’t sure how she’d react. Besides, she never noticed me. She disappeared round the corner leaving me standing alone in this strange, unfamiliar, silent dimly lit street with not another soul in sight.
Whilst staying with friends in the country for three days I took a stroll each evening. On the first I was delighted to come across an abandoned farmstead that enabled me to recall my youth working on farms. My memory brought each empty building I stepped into back to life. In the byre I saw myself hooking the chain round each cow’s neck as it stuck its wide nose into the trough; clear the dung grip then brush down the byre after I’d herded the cows back to the field after milking; bed down the young cattle in the shed with corn straw then cut and toss a barley straw bale into the standing wooden trough, and smelled the simmering pig swill in the large cauldron. Back in the present I returned to the yard and stood with my eyes closed in order to allow myself to be embraced in the arms of a farmstead once more after all these years. I repeated this pattern during each of the following two evenings. On the third I opened my eyes to see a woman passing the yard entrance. She was walking her dog and slowed down when she saw me. ‘Hi!’ I said smiling. ‘Just living in the past for a few moments. I used to work on farms.’ I added. The woman stopped. ‘It’s been empty for a few years now,’ she said, ‘I think there’s plans to build houses though goodness knows when.’ She joined me in the yard and after a little while chatting about the decline in farming and about things in general the conversation took a more introspective turn. Being roughly the same age we moved from the present to sharing our respective pasts laughing, lamenting and showing empathy etc where appropriate. I’m quite a chatty person but in this instance she did most of the chatting. Listening to her reminded me of me – she possessed the same memory for detail. ‘That’s all in the past now,’ she finally said with a sigh followed by a brief contemplative silence for both of us. ‘I think the house is telling us something,’ I eventually said. ‘Hmm, I wonder,’ she murmured as she scanned the walls. I nodded towards the fading, damp stained red brick exterior with roof slates missing and weeds growing out of the guttering: ‘The doors, the windows, they’re all boarded up. Like something else that should be,’ I remarked pensively. ‘Yes, I think I know what you mean,’ she uttered and called on her dog. We walked down the dirt road commenting on the lovely, surrounding countryside and sunset as we did so. At the gate we bade each other goodbye and went our separate ways. This time, unlike my two previous evening strolls to the farmstead, I never looked back.